Japan, Chapter 2: A Day of Travel and Understanding

Day 1: Travel from Bar Harbor to Bangor for 5:25am flight, Bangor to LaGuardia Airport, LaGuardia Airport to JFK Airport, JFK to Tokyo, Tokyo to Hiroshima, Hiroshima to Osaki-kamijima Island via ferry

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A long day of travel, but one without incident

As if the title doesn’t explain it, today was a brutal travel day; brutal, but without incident. I met Dr. Hiromi Nagao (hereafter and correctly Nagao-sensei) at the airport in Hiroshima and had a few hours of travel time with her to begin to understand her own goals and the state of education and educational reform in Japan. The key takeaway from these conversations involves the Fukushima Nuclear disaster of 2011 – what the Japanese refer to as “3/11.”

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Reactor control room at Fukushima 1 nuclear power plant in Japan This photo was taken on June 23, 1999 during a tour of the plant. Creative Commons License 2.0, generic.

That catastrophe inspired a lot of things but, curiously, it also inspired sweeping educational reform. The reaction to the event from the various ministries was that, of all the failures, it was the educational system that failed first and foremost. The string of bad decisions and general human error were tied back, in the opinion of the federal government and Nagao-sensei, to an educational system that placed too much emphasis on rote memorization, specialization, and information acquisition over true understanding. The managers of the power plant itself and those involved with the response to the disaster lacked the ability to lead multi-disciplinary groups, lacked the power to innovate and think creatively, and lacked the experience necessary to absorb large quantities of information, data, and ideas and respond to them with an appropriate degree of experimentation and adaptive management. Those large gaps inspired Nagao-sensei’s interest in Ashoka and social entrepreneurship. They also inspired her interest and Hisohima Prefecture’s interest in the College of the Atlantic and that is why I am here today. That makes this trip even more interesting than I originally imagined.

One thought on “Japan, Chapter 2: A Day of Travel and Understanding

  1. iidaruth says:

    Yes, Nagao Sensei is right, and some of the most painful stories from 3/11 are about schoolchildren who trusted their teachers, waited where they were told to wait, and died in the ensuing tsunami. Those children who took the initiative, trusted their own judgement, and ran for the mountains survived. So the failure of the educational system was reflected on many levels. The ability to innovate and use one’s own good judgement in a disaster is now emphasized in many schools country-wide.

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